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License to heal

After more than a decade of wrangling, Colorado took a giant step this month toward joining 14 other states that regulate alternative doctors.

On Oct. 15, the state's Department of Regulatory Agencies recommended that lawmakers issue licenses to naturopaths -- physicians who work as primary care doctors after attending one of four nationally accredited postgraduate schools.

"More and more people are interested in this kind of care," says Rena Bloom, a Denver naturopath and president of the Colorado Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

Naturopaths often employ non-invasive treatments such as herbal supplements, topical treatments and diet regimes, instead of powerful drugs or surgery. But because naturopaths aren't regulated in Colorado, it's often difficult for patients to distinguish between trained physicians and amateurs.

The General Assembly now has a two-year window to authorize licensure. In 1999, such a bill actually passed in the House before dying in the Senate.

Naturopaths often refrain from providing the full range of treatments for which they've been trained, for fear of being sued for practicing medicine.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and the state's Board of Medical Examiners sued Mark Cooper, a Colorado Springs naturopathic physician, this summer for illegally practicing medicine.

Cooper maintained he'd done no harm, and last month he settled with the state. He says he's pleased with the latest news.

"That gives me boundaries I can work in, without apprehension or fear of prosecution," he says.

But not all alternative healers are happy.

"The licensure will create a monopoly," says Kim Green, a Colorado Springs-based massage therapist and volunteer activist for the National Health Freedom Coalition, a group that opposes licensing because it corners the market on alternative healing. "The consumer loses big."

-- Dan Wilcock

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